James: Food for thought: We were warned in 2012, when the Rand Corporation surveyed the international threats arrayed against the United States and concluded that only pandemics posed an existential danger, in that they were “capable of destroying America’s way of life. We were warned in 2015, when Ezra Klein of Vox, after speaking with Bill Gates about his algorithmic model for how a new strain of flu could spread rapidly in today’s globalized world, wrote that “a pandemic disease is the most predictable catastrophe in the history of the human race, if only because it has happened to the human race so many, many times before.” If there was anything humanity could be certain that it needed to prepare for to prevent the deaths of a lot of people in little time, it was this. We were warned in 2017, a week before inauguration day, when Lisa Monaco, Barack Obama’s outgoing homeland-security adviser, gathered with Donald Trump’s incoming national-security officials and conducted an exercise modeled on the administration’s experiences with outbreaks of swine flu, Ebola, and Zika. The simulation explored how the U.S. government should respond to a flu pandemic that halts international travel, upends global supply chains, tanks the stock market, and burdens health-care systems—all with a vaccine many months from materializing. “The nightmare scenario for us, and frankly to any public-health expert that you would talk to, has always been a new strain of flu or a respiratory illness because of how much easier it is to spread” relative to other pandemic diseases that aren’t airborne, Monaco told us. We were warned in 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed 50 to 100 million people around the world. My colleague Ed Yong served notice that the “next plague” was coming, with influenza the most dangerous possibility, even as the United States succumbed to “forgetfulness and shortsightedness.” Luciana Borio, then the director for medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council, told a symposium that “the threat of pandemic flu is our number-one health security concern.” Serving under a president who’d come to office on the pledge to wall off the United States, she noted that such a threat could not “be stopped at the border.” The very next day, news broke that National Security Adviser John Bolton had shuttered the NSC’s unit for preparing and responding to pandemics, of which Borio was a part. The White House official in charge of spearheading such a response to infectious threats departed as well and was not replaced. A glimpse of the coronavirus’s possible legacy. We were warned in 2018 and 2019, when the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security gathered public-health experts, business leaders, and U.S. government officials for simulations of the devastating humanitarian, political, social, and economic consequences of fictional novel coronaviruses that left tens of millions dead around the world. Participants exited the events thinking, “‘Oh my god, we really need to get working on this,’” Eric Toner, who helped run the exercises, told me. Two months after the second simulation, a novel coronavirus (albeit with what appears to be a substantially lower lethality rate than the fictional viruses in the scenarios at Johns Hopkins) emerged in China. We were warned in 2019 of the grave hazards of a new influenza pandemic by the U.S. intelligence community in its annual “worldwide threat assessment.” They had also cautioned us in 2018. And in 2017. And in 2016. And in 2015. And in 2014. And in 2013, when intelligence officials pleaded, “This is not a hypothetical threat. History is replete with examples of pathogens sweeping populations that lack immunity, causing political and economic upheaval.” (The 2020 worldwide threat assessment, which reportedly yet again flagged America’s vulnerability to a flu pandemic, has been postponed without explanation.) When the National Commission on the COVID-19 response materializes, it will differ from the 9/11 Commission in that it will conclude that “the system was blinking red” not just in the inner sanctum of the U.S. intelligence community but out in the open, as well. For years. Within government and outside government. And that, despite all that, the U.S. government was not sufficiently prepared when the boogeyman, in this case the virus SARS-CoV-2, finally came calling. President Trump has referred to the coronavirus outbreak as “an unforeseen problem,” as “something that nobody expected,” and as a crisis that “came out of nowhere.” It is demonstrably none of the above.